By Ma. Teresa Montemayor, May 20 2019; Philippine News Agency – Business Mirror

Image Credit to GMA News

HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III has stressed the importance of passing the pending sin tax bills in the Senate to ensure sufficient funding for the Universal Health Care (UHC) program and improve health condition in the country.

In a press briefing at the Department of Finance, Duque said the DOH envisions the Philippines as one of the healthiest countries in South East Asia by 2040.

“This can only be done if we keep Filipinos healthy and we provide affordable health care to those who get sick, and these are the two main reasons why we need to increase tobacco and alcohol taxes once more,” he added.

More than being a means to raise funds, Duque said increased alcohol and tobacco taxes are a health measure which would keep Filipinos especially the youth away from smoking and drinking alcohol.

“It is harder for the youth to buy these harmful products for the youth when the prices of alcohol and cigarettes are higher. We can only reduce consumption by making these ‘sin’ products less affordable to consumers,” he said.

Noting that a million smokers quit in 2015 following the passage in 2012 of Republic Act 10351 (the Sin Tax Reform Law), Duque said the alcohol and tobacco taxes must be raised once more to stop putting the lives of 250,000 Filipinos at risk every year.

“The revenues gathered from sin taxes provide the much-needed financing to realize our health reforms. More people, especially the poor, are now covered by the national health insurance program and it enabled us to scale up our non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention program and to assist our tobacco farmers,” he said.

The DOH and Philheath need a total of P257 billion to improve the health insurance coverage of all Filipinos and expand the benefit packages they provide.

“We need to secure sufficient and sustained resources to ensure that the health system will be set up and transformed as envisioned in the next 10 years,” said Duque, adding that President Rodrigo Duterte and the Cabinet members have approved the DOH’s proposal on increased alcohol and tobacco taxes.

Duque also urged civil society organizations, medical communities, and health advocates to continue supporting the DOH in its campaign against alcohol and tobacco.

“Three out of four Filipinos agree that tobacco taxes must be raised based on the recent Pulse Asia Survey. There is clearly a demand from the people to get this done,” he said.

There are still nine days remaining in the 17th Congress for the pending bills on increased alcohol and tobacco taxes to be passed.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the bills could reduce prevalence of tobacco use nationwide while providing additional revenue to fund the government’s UHC program.

The WHO said a tax of P90 per pack of cigarettes is projected to achieve the most substantial decline in the rate of people using tobacco.

“This translates to 14.5 percent by the end of the current administration’s term, from the 23.8 percent in 2015. A P60 increase, meanwhile, is expected to decrease the prevalence of tobacco use to 17.0 percent,” WHO said.